Thursday, January 20, 2005

I came across an interesting 1947 titled "Reporting Providence" (The Commonweal Jan 24, 1947: 367-369) in which one can find Fr. Ong dealing with what become prominent themes in his work: interiority/exteriority, oral and literate culture, and mentalities. It was originally titled "Providence and the Kibitzers: Aspects of the New Mentality." Here's some experts:

"D-Day had come, and the news commentators were hard at it. Not much to go on, either. Put in the few words in which it was so infrequently couched, the information added up to this: the invasion was on. That statement measured everybody's knowledge from end to end.
    "For the rest, the news commentators were simply shuffling through the other facts and scraps of speculation already cluttering the position of the checkers on the board and letting it go at that. It was a fairly satisfactory maneuver, in lieu of something better to do.
    "For the fact is that people derive a tremendous amount of psychological satisfaction from simply experiencing the flow at the surface of events with which they are more or less familiar. The news mentality isn't -- as guiless ninetieth-century journalists once dreamed -- charmed only at the sheer spectacle of man biting dog. The commentators who turn up after the biting is over are equally enchanting.
    "The audience doesn't want news straight. In great part, it wants to be given the feeling that the news is getting somewhere...." (367).

"But for what we make of news and history, for what we like to feel we have when we have them, there is much les to say. We habitually conceive of what they report as complete reality, deficient only in detail, whereas the story that news and history tells is rather a uni-dimensional plotting measuring only the surfaces, the facets, of an irreducibly multi-dimensional reality -- a plotting with no means of registering the real and live interior of this reality deep within the soul of every one of billions of human beings.
    "There have been and are civilizations in which men are not so obsessed with exteriority as they are in ours. These are always civilizations on which the maiden West has not imposed its peculiar psychological complexes and inhibitions. To the former of China, for example, the famine is not so primarily an historical fact, but rather more an aspect of his life: something that does not so much affect history or 'world' as pose a problem for him, and one interior as well as exterior.
     "The historical aspect of the matter he is likely to transmit as he resolves it into a proverb or aphorism -- thereby assimilating it to a world which has come to be unconsciously distasteful to the Western mind. for there is no doubt that, compared with other civilizations, the modern West exhibits a curious apathy towards and a positive dislike of proverbial wisdom. It is symptomatic, for example, that collections of aphorism, such as all other civilizations make so much of, are gone from our lives. We are unable to imagine what world prompt people to get together books, whole books, of sententious sayings" (368).

"All men like news and always have, for men like gossip. But if the current rash of news-gathering has a general foundation in the propensities common to all men and in the recently developed techniques, mechanical and rhetorical, for catering to these propensities, it has also a particular meaning on the current scene. It is not a coincidence that never have so many people spent to much time in pursing news as in the modern Western world. The practice has grown up hand in hand with an assumption which our civilization has seen fit to perpetuate in every possible way. The current ascendancy of the news mentality, the mind which finds its chief satisfaction in skimming over the flotsam at the surface of events, is a tribute to -- and no doubt both a cause and a consequence of -- our general psychological state. It is intimately linked with the unbelievably persistent and obtuse exteriority of the modern West" (368-369).

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